Note: "Beyond The Gridiron," a weekly feature about the Cal football team, will appear Wednesdays throughout the 2013 season.
By Jonathan Okanes, Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY - The toughest thing about graduating a semester early from Marin Catholic High School wasn’t so much the extra workload Jared Goff had to take in order to earn his diploma prematurely. It was giving up a sport – the one that he wouldn’t be pursuing in college.
Granted, the reason Goff wanted to move on to Berkeley early was to begin his college career in another sport he was passionate about. But Goff was also a pretty darn good baseball player, and leaving high school early meant no senior season.
“When I decided to graduate early, I knew it meant I wouldn’t be able to play baseball,” Goff said. “That was actually a big thing. It made it a tough decision. But ultimately, I knew my future was in football and that’s what I had to do.”
You might say it’s worked out so far. Goff enrolled at Cal for the spring semester, meaning he was able to go through spring practice with the Bears. That experience set him up nicely for fall camp, and he ended up being named Cal’s starting quarterback.
“It’s really crazy how fast it’s moved,” said Goff, who will be behind center when the Bears open the 2013 season Saturday against No. 22 Northwestern at Memorial Stadium. “I was playing in the state championship game a little over eight months ago and now I’m here getting a chance to start. It was definitely a big goal of mine coming in here in the spring, and I accomplished that goal. I’m excited for it. I’m ready to go.”
Even with spring practice, it’s rare for a true freshman to become a starting quarterback at a major college program. In fact, the same person who ended up naming him the starter was skeptical about Goff leaving high school early.
“Some young men aren’t really ready to graduate early,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “I think in some ways they waste the spring semester of their senior year. We didn’t know where Jared was going to fit in the whole grand scheme of things. At the time, I thought the poor guy is going to miss out. Obviously, I look back at it now and thank goodness he made a better decision about that than I did.”
Jared isn’t the first Goff to make an impact on Cal’s athletic department. His father, Jerry, was an All-American baseball player at Cal and then went on to a six-year playing career in Major League Baseball with the Montreal Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers. Jerry Goff also was a punter for the Cal football team during his senior year.
“I’m just happy for him and proud of his work ethic, and the fact they have the faith in him to give him the job,” said Jerry, who now is a firefighter in Millbrae. “It’s something that he’s been working for since he was a kid. It’s one of the stepping stones he wanted to hit.”
Goff’s mother, Nancy, also is a Cal graduate, but Jared was never pushed toward Berkeley. Sure, selfishly the Goffs were pulling for their son to follow their legacy, especially because they still live in the Bay Area and could regularly see him play in person. But the Goffs allowed Jared to carve his own path.
Truth be told, Jared didn’t need much convincing to come to Cal. He spent his childhood coming to Cal football and baseball games and knows the campus inside and out.
“When I committed here, I knew I got to continue that legacy a little bit,” Jared said. “Now I get a chance to play where my dad played. My dad used to bring me over here all the time. We went to a lot of games. We walked around campus. We walked down Telegraph. I was pretty familiar with it when I got here.”
Goff gave his oral commitment to Cal pretty early in the recruiting process, but still received significant interest from other major programs. While Jerry didn’t try to sell Cal on his son – and frankly, he didn’t need to – he did make one simple argument.
“What it boiled down to is, what’s better than Cal,” Jerry said. “There were some other offers coming in. We talked about it and ultimately it was his decision, but what’s better than a Cal degree, being 45 minutes from home and being so familiar with the campus? There were so many positives.”
Jerry’s major-league career ended when Jared was about 3, but Jared says he still has memories of sitting in the stands at baseball stadiums and going to Florida and Arizona for spring training. He’s seen video clips of his father playing and did some Internet research about him as well.
“Growing up, I didn’t really know how big of a deal it was until I was old enough to realize it,” Jared said. “He was just always kind of my dad until I got old enough to look him up on the Internet and see how good he actually was, and hear stories about him from other people.
“He used to have an afro. I’ve seen clips of him playing with tight pants back in the late 80s or 90s.”
Jared said he didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in Berkeley in the spring, but realized he was legitimately in the mix for the starting job when training camp began. Now, in just a few days, he’ll get his first chance to demonstrate why leaving high school early was the right decision.
“I went out there in spring ball and didn’t really know what to expect,” Goff said. “I think I adjusted really fast to the speed of the game and was able to pick stuff up really fast. I surprised myself with some of the things I was doing. I was making plays against a college defense and I was just a couple months out of high school. I know what I can do but I was doing stuff I didn’t know I could do.”